Customer Service Confidential: Social Media (an ounce of planning….)

I recently worked with a company in the midst of  “the whole Facebook thing.”  They put a few of the people they assumed were knowledgeable about the brave new frontier on it, they threw some Marketing budget at it, and voila: a Facebook presence.

Well sorta.  The good news is that now, 6 or 7 months later, they’ve sorted a lot of things out and have a pretty smart presence after all–and a pretty big and active following.  What was one of the smartest things they did?  After a few embarrassing months of having their marketing campaigns besmirched by actual post-purchase customers who were not happy with xyz, they put a Support tab in there, with a lot of rich media and How-to stuff going on.  It’s targeted, it’s smart.

I always wonder about filtering and censoring, customer education, stuff like that.  How are those rich media How-to’s doing, is there a measurable impact on calls?  Even better, can you track if those videos are being shared?  The vids themselves are helpful, if a little dry by today’s standards.  There are other approaches now that are pretty excellent–check out the Story of Stuff for a great example of narrated animation.

The big question as always: do things on the front end create a seamless customer experience? When those random rants and questions comes through Facebook, are they filtered out or heard and correctly funneled to someone who can help, and then is the answer reflected back to the whole audience as a tip on Twitter and Facebook, in the forums and elsewhere?  Cuz you never know, I might have the same question…

When social media is brought up as “somewhere we need to go,” it’s often met with a mixture of excitement and discomfort.  Excitement because the potential is obvious.  Discomfort because the ones who are allocating budget and people sometimes don’t know what it’s about or how it works and that’s…er, uncomfortable.

So the first thing organizations latch onto is platform.  Platform, tools, things.  And the sales pitch from the companies that host and make these things puts that same group of people at ease because the successful platform gurus have figured out how to do that in a way that anyone can understand: easy and fun to use profiles, access to all kinds of fun stuff, “search that things the way I do,” easy peasy.


Nothing wrong with easy.  But keep this in mind: An Ounce of Planning Is Worth a Pound of Platform.  Beware the following goblins (tis the season, after all) and plan for them:

  • you have a huge infrastructure in place that will be a little nervous by a paradigm change such as social media, especially HR, Legal, and Knowledge groups–how are you bringing them in, are you doing plenty of x-functional activities?
  • it’s not the platform, it’s the people, it’s always the people, and that means connecting all the customer facing dots.
  • What’s your overarching plan? No, really–what’s the plan? Does it boil down to “launch the platform” or do you have information funneling maps, ownership lined up, x-functional participation, nay-sayer muzzles?
  • adoption is the only thing that matters.  If you can’t reasonably measure adoption in a way that makes sense to your organization, then you will not have a clear picture of success
  • Speaking of measuring, do you have customer contact codes?  If not, shoot me an email now.  If you do, then what would it take to align them with your social media channels.  That’s where the ever-elusive social media support ROI is.
  • Clear and unbiased audits throughout the first year will go a long towards helping YOU understand what’s going on in the jungle of tweets, posts, likes, follows, and tags. (audit is a scary word, so maybe call it something else…?)

The implementation of a huge and complex new platform, forums for instance, combined with the same people who are accustomed to taking three months to funnel new information to various internal owners or front line support will undoubtedly result in a slow and painful adoption because few will see the value in such a system.   You need a new approach, one that is lightening fast and knows how to use tags, flags, and forwards.  Plan for it.  Take the champs and turbo users, let them show you how it’s done.  Then train the KM team if it makes sense.  Follow the content, make a map, see where it goes and map where it should go.

A good test of a community based process is backward tracking and testing a tag.  If you have some sort of tag cloud (it’s old, I know, but they work well) or trending system, work it backwards and see where it came from, what’s in there, what’s missing, what’s wrongly classified.  It’s a simple test, but it will tell you a lot.

Another tell tale sign that the ducks might not all be lined up is when you see a standard Twitter response that instructs the customer to call the company at 1-800-123-4567.  What you’re seeing is a company struggling to get the beast back into its comfort zone: the call center.   What you want is a unified plan that plays to each channel’s strength, and interconnects + cross-references effectively, ie, One Voice.  Social Media is new (sorta) but really, the basic rules of service haven’t changes much.

Of course an important but simple (simple isn’t always easy, it’s just simple) is to do user testing of your social platform.  Five tasks, five end users, one day a month, collate the info, rinse, repeat. The interesting part of this is that it doesn’t test simply the interface (normal) but more importantly tests the content.

>>Today’s bottom line: an ounce of mapping/planning/rethinking is worth a pound of platform.

Do you audit your social media channels?  If so, how and how often?

Customer Service Confidential: Social Media


Even with cute logos and the promise of direct access, customers really don't want to have to contact you.

Full disclosure: I work with Bill Price, author of Best Service is No Service, on a zillion projects, applying those principles where/when possible.  I’m biased, I think it’s the right approach. Because really, no really: customers don’t want to have to contact you.  They have better things to do.

So even though “Social Media” makes everyone around the big table light up with recognition that this-this!–will change everything, beware: at the end of the day, the no-service rule still stands.  Don’t make your customers call you.

Don’t make them Twitter you.

Don’t make them use your difficult forums.

Don’t make them bitch about you on Facebook.

Because even though sometimes it feels like some of your customers need to get a life, really guys, they have a life.  And they’d rather be doing that life than contacting you–through any channel.  If you make them contact you because something’s broken in your organization, Twitter, Facebook and forums don’t make that contact sexier.  They only make it more public.

At the end of the day, all your customers really really want IF they have to contact you is this: an exchange that is fast, effective and accurate.

Signal vs. Noise

Signal vs. Noise

Today’s bottom line: All the usual suspects, Twitter, Facebook and Forums, will not fix your deep-down root problems.  They will only make them more public.  And if done poorly (as is so often the case because we have to do. this. NOW), the triumvirate will only make the signal/noise ratio of what you need to change or fix more difficult to translate.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m the first one in line to champion best use of social media. Stay tuned.  It will all become clearer.

Customer Service Confidential: Social Media

I’m going to be doing a spate of posts on the types of issues I’m seeing when someone in the company decides any one of the many social media platforms out there would be a good idea. (which it is, and simple in its way, but simple isn’t always easy)

Note: I’m calling out Customer Service, not Customer Experience. Marketing & Service = Experience, and that’s the way it should be, but a lot of social media tools are tricked out with Marketing in mind, not Customer Service. That makes for a few challenges down the line.

So stay tuned for Customer Service Confidential: Social Media (. Hope you’ll join me and offer ideas, feedback, questions.

Early Birds Biz Travelers Beware : Southwest Airlines


I recently flew to Albuquerque on business, taking my usual Southwest direct flight.  It’s the only way to go–the other options are just too long, and besides, I heart Southwest.

Well, we’re sort of having a spat, but for the most part, SW is my main plane. What’s the spat about, you might ask?  Good question…especially if you are a business traveler, and double especially if you have to submit receipts for travel.

Because if you select the Early Bird option on your ticket, it won’t show up on your receipt.  Or anywhere else that I could find.  So you will have a $20 charge you can’t account for…it won’t break the bank, but still…it’s not right.

So I emailed Southwest to see if I could get a more…ahem, complete receipt, and here’s what I got:

Thank you for your e-mail. We’re so pleased that you have taken advantage of adding our EarlyBird Check-In option to your reservation. Although we are unable to send a receipt, the EarlyBird Check-In purchase confirmation page serves as your receipt (you won’t find this information on your air travel itinerary). In the future, we recommend that you print this page for your records. If you have any additional questions about this amenity, we encourage you to check out the FAQs. We look forward to welcoming you onboard very soon.


Jean, Southwest Airlines

Got that? Because nowhere in the process does the system indicate you should be printing pages as you are processing your reservation online.  And, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not accustomed to doing that…I sort of expect that the final receipt will…well, I don’t know, include all the charges.

So Biz Travelers: just a word of advice.  If you select that Early Bird check in option, remember to print the confirmation page as you are processing your reservation (I’m not entirely sure which page that is, I’m just repeating Jean’s advice above), cuz the charges will not show up anywhere else.

And yes, the billing department did call me out on this discrepancy.  And yes, I will eat the charges.

Ironically, the Early Bird feature seems to be a little too early for prime-time.

Oh, Amazon. Nobody does it better. :-)

Post-script, 6/15/2010:

Amazon has always tried hard to be a company that listens.  Sometimes better than others, but the focus has traditionally been on what the customer is saying. This customer was steaming mad yesterday, for all the reasons below, and a few more.

But I think we’ve negotiated a path through the problem that suits us both, and for that, I remain an exceptionally loyal customer.  I said my part, you heard me and responded = I exist.  And bottom line, that visibility into me is what’s missing with most companies.  Companies that figure out how to do that listen/see piece well will have lifelong customers.

Thank you Amazon, for making this right.


Just the facts….

I bought the Kindle 2 at the end of February, 2009–hot off the press for a $440.  I’ve loved it.  I’ve championed it to my friends.  I’ve been steadfast even as the iPad sang its siren song.

Until now.  After just over a year, the thing is broken.  Funny lines across the screen, chunks just missing.  I’ve rebooted, I’ve done everything I can.  No dice. No go. No fun.

I wrote to Amazon this morning and they indicated to me that for a mere $135 I could get the Kindle replaced.  I’m assuming that’s for a refurbished one that has likely experienced the same problem I am experiencing now. That brings the total to $575 for an item that is just a tad over a year old.

Jeff, are you reading this? Totally doubtful, god knows you’ve got other things to do…but just in case, come on.  The thing is buggy and  at new total of $575, I would do well to simply jump ship and get an iPad from a company I trust to make things that actually work for longer than a year.  Better yet, the library is sounding better all the time.

My demographic?  I still have, use and love my first gen iPhone.  Still works great.  Owes me not one cent.

And oh by the way, this is environmentally conscious?  Really?  Because I’m pretty sure junking this thing means another hunk of plastic in the nearest landfill.

And last but not least, could you please cancel my recent book orders?  I won’t be needing them.

Netflix, my Netflix

I’ve been a loyal Netflix user since about the beginning, though I did drop off a one point during which time I realized the virtues of having a queue history.  I have not strayed since.

Recently we’ve become addicted in a hard-core mainlining kind of way to The Tudors.  We hate ourselves.  And yet we watch again.  And again.

The Tudors while Anne Bolyne is still alive.

The Tudors while Anne Bolyne is still alive. Less history and more...well, other things. Costumes, for example.

So, in an attempt to break free of the monkey on our backs, when we finished season 2, we didn’t move season 3 up in the queue.  That’s when our troubles began.  Because we soon realized that even though we hated ourselves, we wanted more Tudors.  So, after a couple days, we moved the series up.

But by this weekend we couldn’t even wait two days more, so on Sunday we went to a nearby dvd rental place and got the first disc in season 3–yay, we could relax and relinquish our lives for a little while.

I got up Monday morning, deleted  Disc 1 from our queue…and was disappointed to get an email later in the day that Disc 1 was on its way.  I called Netflix–they’re so flippin’ nice!–and said, well, I could understand that I didn’t delete in time, but the website said I DID delete in time, and that’s just bad form, yo.

Jennifer pretty much agreed that it would be confusing and agreed to send the next disc out to me asap, and just return Disc 1 when it came along.  Deliriously Happy!

Except….except today I get an email that the next disc is shipping and it’s NOT Disc 2.  That’s totally weird, and while I’m sure I’m somehow at fault, I called Netflix again and said, really–what’s up?  Are you guys trying to kill us?

After a long discussion in which I made it clear I really just wanted to understand why Disc 2 didn’t ship, that I was sure I somehow messed it up, Becky said she didn’t know why it didn’t ship.  It was a mystery.  Un secreto de la Iglesia, as we used to say in the 1500’s.  At the end of the call, Becky says, look I’m going to send the 2nd Disc out because I understand the addiction and because you’re such a good customer.

I was thrilled, tickled and overwhelmed by that precious feeling of intense loyalty.  Netflix, my Netflix, we are wed for life (not like Henry).

Clearwire to Clear in under 27 minutes–beautiful!

Here’s how it went:

  1. Read in the news about Clearwire going to Clear on its new 4G network, clicked through to see how it might impact me, a current customer; learned that I have to upgrade to the new modem/network and that it wouldn’t cost me more to have faster speeds–great, I thought, sort of nervously….
  2. Clicked the Upgrade button on the Clearwire site, clicked a few more buttons, zippity doo dah, done! They’ll send me a new modem in a matter of days.  Me: still feeling slightly nervous, imagining the mess of having to network a new IP or who knows what….
  3. Received email status and info: what to expect and when to expect it, return of old modem with instructions and prepaid label, shipping status of new modem.  My interest/curiosity is piqued, still a wee bit nervous….
  4. This morning the box is delivered.  From the time I open the box to the time I’m truly zipping along on the world wide web and have returned the old modem to the shipping box: 27 minutes.

(The only muss or fuss was when I didn’t follow instructions! Instead of an ethernet to my mac, I just plugged the existing ethernet from my airport wifi to the Clear modem.  Fail. The first step allows your new 4G connection to interface with Clear directly, thus establishing a link Doh. Once I figured that out, things went fast.)

Clear deserves a big hand for thinking this change through, hooking up all the little pieces that can make the headache of big change fall to the customer rather than the company initiating it.  Good job, very well done–and when I click to post this, the publishing process will go faster than I’m accustomed to…gotta love that.

5 Customer Imperatives: Local boy does good

westportMost of the companies I work with regarding customer experience strategies are big–big, global-big, huge complex problems with complex solutions. During the course of that, it would be easy to lose sight of the simple things that make the customer experience work.

That’s why a recent experience really stayed in my mind: Wavehounds, a local Seattle surfshop. Wavehounds is run by veteran surfer Todd whose approach to his biz exemplifies everything you really want in a customer experience:

  1. Focus on the customer in the moment: I’m not a kid. I’m not a guy. I’m the improbable customer: an older woman who has fallen in love with surfing. Love aside, it takes a lot to go into a surf shop where I might be treated badly, as a novice, as a know-nothing. But Todd was fantastic–he welcomed me and made me feel absolutely at ease in an environment where expert and novice are often… odds. (Most surf shops could take a page out of Harley Davidson’s reinvention of itself–HD being part of another arena that tends to dismiss newbies, their future customer base). In the corporate setting, this would be the equivalent to welcoming the customer over the phone or email, making that all important connection by introducing yourself, asking their name, maybe how they’re doing–you give them the sense you’re paying attention, that you’re welcome.
  2. Listen and learn: Todd asked about my experience, where I’ve surfed, what boards I’d tried, where I was in the learning curve and what my budget was. But here’s the kicker: he listened to my answers. And that was key when he finally suggested a board for me–I had confidence that this would be the right board for my spot in the learning curve. I asked some questions, asked about other boards, learned a bunch from him, but that initial five minutes or so were the deal makers for me. It gave me the confidence I needed to commit to a board.
  3. Guide but don’t push: that’s the listening-to-my-questions part. If Todd had pushed too hard, I wouldn’t have felt like I made a long term connection to a resource I would continue to use and buy from, I would have felt like a piece of meat. I want to be surfing for a while, and even though I was looking for a board, I was really looking for something much more. Todd offered that. Todd is smart.
  4. Do something a little extra: Listen, it’s just not that hard, and it doesn’t have to be huge–it just has to be meaningful to the exchange. For agents on the phone, it could be something as simple as recognizing the weather where the customer is–I saw an outstanding sales agent once who closed more transactions simply because he had a google map and weather forecast open on his desktop. In the case of Wavehounds, Todd taught me how to apply wax–both undercoat and over–correctly. It’s not a big thing, I could have learned it from YouTube, but he had time and he made use of it in a way that meant a lot to me, his long term customer.
  5. Be proactive: in the big company arena, this would mean knowing what was going to happen to the customer (order shipment process, repair process, etc) and setting expectations, or letting the customer know what to do next. It’s hugely important. In this instance, it meant Todd asking me where I was going to take the board out for the first time. When I mentioned the coast, he just said, “No, you’re not. Not this weekend you’re not.” And he was right–we were going to be experiencing phenomenally high surf, 30 foot waves, and it was not safe for surfing. Instead he clued me into some lesser known spots I’d never tried and didn’t even know about. I loved him for that!

See you out there, bud!

Charlene Li on Starbucks Social Media strategy: it’s a natural

Charlene Li reviews Starbucks’ social media strategy in a new report you can access here.

She makes a number of great points, but what is crucially important in making any social media strategy work is the people and cultural awareness in an organization. Here are some highlights:

  • Deputizing people throughout the organization
  • Understanding how each social media channel provides a different dimension of engagement
  • Centralizing coordination
  • Finding champions who can explain and mitigate risk

You can download the whole report at the link above. Happy, helpful reading!